Page — guitar
Robert Plant — lead vocals, harmonica
John Bonham — drums
John Paul Jones — bass guitar, keyboards, mandolin
band has often cited influential manager Peter Grant as a "fifth
Zeppelin was rock's first real Heavy Metal band. Yet many of their
fans were not even fans of metal music. The band was originally
formed in 1968 by guitarist Jimmy Page under the name The New
Yardbirds in order to fulfill some performance commitments booked
in Scandinavia before the break up of the original Yardbirds.
The original Led Zeppelin lineup consisted of Page, vocalist Robert
Plant, drummer John Bonham, and former Yardbirds bassist Chris
Dreja, but Dreja left very early in the band's existence to become
a photographer. He was replaced by Page's long time friend John
Paul Jones. Dreja did play some part in early Led Zeppelin. Dreja
took the photograph on the back of the group's debut album. Plant
himself brought in his old friend John Bonham from Black Country
pub and rock club bands; Plant was recommended to Page by Page's
first choice singer Terry Reid (who declined the opportunity).
Reports vary as to where the band first all met - a pub in Walsall,
Staffordshire or a rehearsal room in London being cited by some.
concerts as the New Yardbirds, the band's name was changed to
Led Zeppelin, after The Who drummer Keith Moon quipped that the
band would go over "like a lead Zeppelin". (The comment
is frequently attributed to Who bassist John Entwistle instead,
or to a joke shared between the two.) When adopting the name,
the word "lead" was misspelled deliberately to avoid
confusion, fearing Americans might pronounce it "lead Zeppelin"
(as in "lead singer"), as opposed to a zeppelin constructed
of the metal lead. Shortly after their first tour, the group's
first eponymous album was released on January 12, 1969. Its combination
of blues and rock influences with distorted amplification made
it one of the pivotal records in the evolution of heavy metal
music. The immediate success of the first album kick-started the
band's career, especially in the United States, where they would
frequently tour and where their album sales totals are second
only to the Beatles. The second record, simply titled Led Zeppelin
II, followed in the same style later that year and included the
bludgeoning riff of "Whole Lotta Love", which, driven
by the rhythm section of John Bonham on drums and John Paul Jones
on bass, defined their sound at the time.
and Robert Plant were blues fanatics; two of Led Zeppelin's early
hits, "Whole Lotta Love" and "You Shook Me",
were very similar to earlier songs by Willie Dixon. (The band
were subsequently accused of using his lyrics without crediting
Dixon, and it was not until Chess Records brought suit 15 years
later, that proper credit—and a monetary settlement—was
given.) Page was once quoted in an interview with the hypothesis:
"I've often thought that in the way the Stones tried to be
the sons of Chuck Berry, we tried to be the sons of Howlin' Wolf"
(a version of whose song "Killing Floor" featured prominently
in Zeppelin's early live performances). The band also loved American
rock and roll: the exuberant styles of Fats Domino and Little
Richard were inspirations, and Led Zeppelin would perform rockabilly
songs originally made famous by Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran.
Onstage, Led Zeppelin concerts could last over three hours; expanded,
improvised live versions of their song repertoire often incorporated
tight workouts of James Brown, Stax, and Motown-influenced soul
music and funk (favourites of bassist Jones and drummer Bonham).
For the recording
of their third album, Led Zeppelin III, the band retired to Bron-Yr-Aur,
a remote house in Wales. This would result in a more acoustic
sound (and a song "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp"—misspelled
as "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" on the album cover) which was
strongly influenced by Celtic and folk music, and it also revealed
a different side of guitarist Page's prodigious talent. In November
of 1970, Led Zeppelin's record label, Atlantic Records, released
"Immigrant Song" against the band's wishes. It included
their only b-side, "Hey Hey What Can I Do". The band
had nine other singles released all without their consent, as
they saw their albums as indivisible. Curiously, "Stairway
to Heaven" was never released as a single, in spite of its
massive success on radio (part of the band's frustration about
singles came from manager Peter Grant's aggressive pro-album stance,
and the fact that Atlantic had earlier released an edited version
of "Whole Lotta Love" which cut the 5:34 song to 3:10).
The group also resisted television appearances, which left any
ability to control their presentation and sound quality out of
their own hands (with often disappointing or embarrassing results).
Lack of Led Zeppelin TV exposure also enforced the band's preference
that their fans hear and see them in person.
varying musical tendencies were fused on their untitled fourth
album, which is usually called either "Zoso," "Runes,"
"Four Symbols," or just "Led Zeppelin IV."
(Not only is the album itself without a name: on the original
packaging, there is no indication of the name of the band.) Released
November 8, 1971, this record included hard rock such as "Black
Dog", Tolkienesque folksy mysticism on "The Battle of
Evermore", and a combination of both genres in the lengthy
song "Stairway to Heaven", a massive FM radio hit that
has been acknowledged by many as the all-time greatest classic
rock song. The album winds up with one of their best blues songs,
a Memphis Minnie cover titled "When the Levee Breaks".
Their next studio record, 1973's Houses of the Holy, featured
further experimentation: longer songs and expanded use of synthesisers
and Mellotron parts. With songs like "The Song Remains the
Same", "No Quarter" and "D'yer Mak'er"
(pronounced "Jer-maker," derived from Jamaica, which
was fitting, given the song's reggae feel. This is also a play
on words, based on the joke where a man mistakes his friend saying
the word Jamaica, for "Did You Make Her?"), Led Zeppelin
was again pushing the limits defining rock music. Their 1973 tour
of the U.S. again broke records for attendance: at Tampa Stadium,
Florida they played to 56,800 fans (more than the Beatles' 1965
concert at Shea Stadium). Three sold-out New York shows at Madison
Square Garden were filmed for a concert motion picture, but this
project would be delayed for several years.
In 1974, Led
Zeppelin launched their own record label called Swan Song, named
after one of only five songs that the band never recorded for
commercial release (the track was re-tooled as "Midnight
Moonlight" by Page's post-Zeppelin band The Firm on their
first album). Besides using it as a vehicle to promote their own
albums, the band expanded the label's roster, signing artists
such as Bad Company, Pretty Things, Maggie Bell, Detective, Dave
Edmunds, Midnight Flyer, Sad Café and Wildlife. 1975 saw
the release of Physical Graffiti, their first double album set,
on the Swan Song label. The album included songs recorded in studio
sessions from the group's previous three albums plus new songs.
Led Zeppelin again showed its impressive range with songs like
the melodic "Ten Years Gone", the acoustic "Black
Country Woman", the driving "Trampled Underfoot"
and the thundering, Indian-Arabic tinged "Kashmir".
the release of Physical Graffiti, the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue
of six albums was simultaneously on the top 200 album chart, a
feat never before accomplished. The band embarked on another U.S.
tour, again playing to record-breaking crowds. To top off the
year, they played five sold out nights at the UK's Earls Court
(these shows were recorded, portions of which would be released
on DVD some 28 years later). At this peak of their career, Led
Zeppelin was the biggest rock band in the world. If the band's
popularity on stage and record was impressive, so too was their
reputation for excess and off-stage wildness. Zeppelin travelled
in a private jet (nicknamed "The Starship"), rented
out entire sections of hotels, and became the subjects of many
of rock's most famous stories of debauchery: trashed hotel rooms
(TVs out the window, motorcycling in the halls), sexual escapades,
and heavy use of drugs and alcohol. Several people associated
with the band - perhaps embellishing more often than they should
- would write books about the wild escapades of the group, while
band members themselves have disavowed many of the tales.
In 1976 the
band took a break from the road and began filming "fantasy"
segments for the concert film entitled "The Song Remains
The Same". During this break, Robert Plant and his wife were
in a car crash while vacationing in Greece which broke Plant's
ankle. Unable to tour, the band returned to the studio and, with
Plant sitting on a stool during the sessions, they recorded their
seventh studio album Presence. The album was a platinum seller,
but marked a change in the Zeppelin sound as straightforward,
guitar-based jams such as "Nobody's Fault But Mine"
had replaced the intricate arrangements of previous albums. A
highlight of the album was the epic-length "Achilles Last
Stand" featuring a driving bassline and thundering drums,
melodic Page riffs and a magnificent guitar solo. Overall the
album received mixed responses from critics and fans, with some
appreciating the looser style and others dismissing it as sloppy
and lazy; some critics speculated that the band's legendary excesses
may have caught up with them at last. Interestingly enough, 1976
was the year guitarist Page started using heroin, a habit which
would often interfere with their live shows and studio recordings
in their later years. Late 1976 finally saw the release of the
concert film The Song Remains the Same and its soundtrack double
LP. Though the concert footage was from 1973, this would be the
only filmed document of the group available for the next 20 years.
The soundtrack album of the film had some songs missing and some
added compared to the film, and also some songs are different
cuts from the 3 nights the band performed at Madison Square Garden.
The soundtrack is not generally considered a great live album,
but would remain the only official live document of the band until
the eventual release of the BBC Sessions in 1997.
In 1977, Led
Zeppelin embarked on another massive U.S. tour, again selling
out up to 5 nights in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New
York. (Seattle and Cleveland shows from this tour were the basis
for bootleg albums prized by fans.) Following a show at the "Day
on the Green" festival in Oakland, the news came that Robert
Plant's son Karac had died from a stomach infection. The rest
of the tour was cancelled, and superstitious critics whispered
of a "curse" said to be related to Page's interest in
The band did
little recording or live work during 1978; the somber mood was
extended with the death of their friend, Who drummer Keith Moon.
The summer of 1978 saw the group recording again, this time at
Swedish Polar Studio, owned by the pop group ABBA ; this album
would be titled In Through the Out Door and would highlight the
talent of drummer John Bonham on the epic "Carouselambra"
and the tropical "Fool In The Rain". The album also
featured rockers like "In The Evening", and the balladic
tribute to Plant's son, "All My Love". John Paul Jones
had a lot of influence over the album and it consequently features
many synthesisers. After a decade of recording and touring, the
band was now considered a dinosaur in some quarters, as mainstream
musical tastes had moved in favour of disco and critical focus
had turned to punk rock. Nevertheless, the band still commanded
legions of loyal fans, and the album reached #1 in the US and
UK. In the summer of 1979, after two warm-up shows in Copenhagen,
Led Zeppelin was booked as headliner at England's Knebworth Festival
in August. Close to 400,000 fans witnessed the return of Led Zeppelin
and, with the release of In Through the Out Door in November,
they were ready to tour again, planning a short European tour
followed by another American tour.
The 1980 American
tour was not to be, however. On 25 September 1980, shortly before
embarking on the U.S. leg of the tour, drummer John Bonham died
of an accidental asphyxiation after an alcohol binge. Because
of Bonham's death, the remaining band members determined they
could not continue as Led Zeppelin. For many years after, there
had been ongoing rumours of a reunion and plans for various collaborative
projects. Two years after Bonham's death, the band released Coda,
a collection of out-takes from previous recording sessions. In
the years to follow, a steady stream of boxed sets and greatest-hits
collections would keep the band on the charts, as Led Zeppelin
continued to garner heavy airplay on rock radio.
on a successful solo career in 1982, Plant teamed with Page in
1984 for the commercially successful Honeydrippers Volume I EP,
which also featured Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. On 13 July 1985
Led Zeppelin reunited at the Live Aid concert for a short set
featuring Page, Plant and Jones, with drummers Tony Thompson and
Phil Collins standing in for the late John Bonham. The performance
included three songs ("Rock and Roll", "Whole Lotta
Love" and "Stairway to Heaven") and a myriad of
difficulties. A year later in 1986, Page, Plant and Jones gathered
at Bath, England for rehearsals with Thompson with a view to play
again as a group, but a serious car accident involving Thompson
put an end to that plan. However, Zeppelin did reunite again in
1988, with Jason Bonham (standing in for his father, John) joining
the remaining three for Atlantic Records' 40th Anniversary concert.
In addition, they played with Jason at Carmen Plant's (Robert's
daughter) 21st birthday party, and Jason's wedding. In 1990, Robert
Plant and Jimmy Page played a brief set together at the Knebworth
music festival, which included the rarity off of Coda, "Wearing
and Tearing". Page and Plant, without Jones, reunited in
1994 for an MTV Unplugged performance (dubbed Unledded) which
eventually led to a world tour with a Middle Eastern orchestra,
and an album entitled No Quarter.
1997 saw the
release of the first Led Zeppelin album in over 15 years—
BBC Sessions. This two-disc set included almost all of the band's
recordings for the BBC, though fans noticed the absence of one
session from 1969 that included the unreleased "Sugar Mama".
At this time Atlantic also released a single edit of "Whole
Lotta Love" making it the only Led Zeppelin CD single. In
1998, Page and Plant continued their collaboration after the Unledded
project with Walking into Clarksdale, the pair's first album-length
collaboration on all-new material since Led Zeppelin.
press reported in 2002 that Plant and Jones had reconciled after
a 20-year feud that had kept Led Zeppelin apart, and rumours surfaced
of a reunion tour in 2003. Drummer Dave Grohl of Nirvana, and
singer/guitarist of the Foo Fighters was named as a potential
replacement for Bonham, a claim later denied by Page. 2003 saw
yet another resurgence of the band's popularity with the release
of live album and video collections featuring material from the
band's heyday (see How the West Was Won album and Led Zeppelin
DVD). At year's end, the DVD had sold more than 520,000 copies,
easily making the list of the most popular DVDs of the year. In
2005 Led Zeppelin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award,
which was the first (and to date only) Grammy the band had received.
in the 1980s, the iconic nature of many Zeppelin riffs made them
a popular target for sampling, initially unauthorised but later
sanctioned by the surviving band members, to mixed reactions from
fans. Hip-hop group the Beastie Boys sampled Bonham's crushing
beat from "When the Levee Breaks", and also borrowed
parts of "The Ocean" for "She's Crafty". For
the movie Godzilla (1998), guitarist Jimmy Page collaborated with
P. Diddy, reworking the famous riff from "Kashmir" in
the hit song "Come With Me"—Page also has a brief
vocal part in this song. Tool has covered "No Quarter"
and a riff from the song can be found in Sublime's "Smoke
Two Joints". Another band featuring Tool vocalist Maynard
James Keenan, A Perfect Circle, covered When the Levee Breaks
on their eMOTIVe album in 2004. The rock/comedy duo Tenacious
D strategically used pieces of "Stairway to Heaven"
in the original version of their song "Tribute".
songs have been the subject of cover versions on occasion; American
band Dread Zeppelin have made a career out of covering and parodying
Zeppelin tunes. A cover version of "Whole Lotta Love",
by Alexis Korner, was, for many years, used as the theme music
for the BBC's chart show Top of the Pops. Tina Turner covered
Led Zeppelin II 's "Whole Lotta Love" and the London
Philharmonic Orchestra released an orchestral tribute to Led Zeppelin
that includes versions of "Stairway to Heaven", "When
The Levee Breaks" and "Kashmir". In 1995 a tribute
album entitled Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin was released
featuring covers performed by modern rock acts, notably a hit
version of "Dancing Days" performed by Stone Temple
In 1978, a
band from Davis, California called Little Roger and the Goosebumps
put out a single called "Stairway To Gilligan's Island"
(by putting the words to the theme of the 1960s US television
show Gilligan's Island to an adapted and condensed "Stairway
to Heaven"). This song became popular especially through
heavy play (and many listener requests) on the Dr. Demento Radio
Show. Unfortunately, legal action by representatives of Led Zeppelin
soon followed and the single was withdrawn from sale.
of their contemporaries, the band has been very protective of
its catalog of songs and seldom allowed them to be licensed for
other uses. In recent years this position has softened somewhat
and Led Zeppelin songs can be heard in movies such as Almost Famous
and School of Rock. And in a concession for commercial use, the
Led Zeppelin song "Rock and Roll" can now be heard in
Cadillac television and radio ads.